“And everything takes on a peculiar air of futility and I can’t get rid of it and so I don’t bother trying to do so because in the end, staying in bed is much less effort.”
– 28th September 2013
“Sometimes life feels like walking on a cross trainer because you know you’re not going anywhere and yet a part of you makes you keep going. But on other days that voice is drowned out by the one that asks you why you bother. It’s so loud you don’t know how you got on the cross trainer in the first place. What was the point? And the tension has been turned right up and it’s so much effort even to walk slowly – so you just stop. Getting off is giving up so you don’t do that, you just sit down between the pedals and sob because there’s no one else in the house to hear you.”
– 16th November 2013
“I stayed in bed for two hours, so paralysed by indecision I didn’t know how to do anything, too stressed out to leave the house, unable to find the words to write even a blog post, without the attention span to read anything, too miserable to even move.”
– 22nd December 2013
“My eyes look like bruises. The bags are purplish-black, tinged with blue and green as though my sleeplessness punched me in the face, like I’ve been fighting the ticking clock at half past one until it gives in and lets me pause it until the morning. I can’t stop crying. It’s endless; every second I’m on the brink of it and just allowing myself to think that sets me off. The salt stings my cheeks and my eyelids feel sore every time I blink or move my eyes, as though they’re aching to rest as much as I’m aching to let them. I can’t stop crying. I don’t know why.”
– 3rd January, 2014*
I’ve been keeping a journal every day since the seventeenth of September. I write approximately the same amount every day – a double page spread of the notebook, written in black biro. I’m on my third notebook. They’re all exactly the same.
Keeping a regular journal like this is a discipline – it forces me to write every day for ten or fifteen minutes, no matter how much I don’t feel like it. It also forces me to put what I’m feeling into words, which I’m not always very good at it, and stops me from keeping things bottled up. I don’t write everything that happens to me, but I am utterly truthful about what I do say.
It serves a purpose, particularly in the light of the health problems I’ve had over the past months. I frequently write how I’m feeling, physically or mentally, and if I want to pin down exactly where a problem started, I can do that. I just have to look through and see where I wrote about it. I can see my progress, the ups and downs of my emotions or my hands.
But on the whole, unless there’s a particular reason I need to track something down, I don’t make a habit of reading through my journals, particularly when I’m still halfway through a notebook. A lot of the emotions are too raw, and reading it through is just going to reopen wounds that are still closing. I’m not writing them down to read through right now. I write them for myself at the moment of composition, the catharsis of writing, and I write them for me in the future.
Yesterday I was reading through my previous two notebooks, looking for something in particular, and the thing that stood out to me was how awful I felt between September and January. The absolute low points I hit. Above are extracts from a handful of entries. They are others that you could describe as ‘worse’, but they’re related to specific events or are otherwise too private too share. These are simply emotions.
A psychoanalytic reading of my journals suggests I was depressed. At the very least, I had severe low points where I could barely function. In multiple entries I talked about not being able to stop crying. I talked about a lack of energy. Sometimes I couldn’t even bring myself to chew food, so I didn’t eat.
I wrote it down because I told myself I had to be honest. I immortalised those feelings because I made a deal with myself that I wasn’t going to lie and I wasn’t going to hide things from my journal.
Days when I couldn’t tell anyone how awful I felt, I wrote it down. I told myself.
With hindsight it’s possible for me to say that a lot of my exhaustion was probably down to being seriously anaemic, something nobody worked out until I had a blood test a few months ago. In my journals and in my everyday life you can see a notable uplift in my mood and behaviour after I got given iron supplements, because my body was no longer having to fight just to keep me upright, and I had more energy to fight off the bad moods.
Iron supplements can’t take all the credit. I’ve seen a counsellor, I’ve talked through things, I’ve cut people out of my life that were having a negative impact on me. I’ve written angry poetry and miserable poetry and hey, even some poetry that was maybe quite good. I’ve started writing again — my worst moments were when I couldn’t write at all because of my hands.
And I wouldn’t say I’m a happy-clappy type now. I’m not completely out of that dark hole — I get dragged back into it all too often. Throughout my revision period I had days when I felt fine and ready to face the challenge of exams, and other days when I couldn’t find it in myself to care, where the whole thing seemed pointless.
I have days when I get very little done, but at least I get out of bed. Even when I sink low, I don’t sink as far as I did then. It’s a long time since I had a day as bad as the days I had in the autumn.
The benefit of keeping a journal is that I can look back and I can see where I’ve been — and it’s infinitely encouraging. How was I to know how much better I am without a clear picture of just how screwed up I was six or eight months ago? Looking at, I’m grateful because I can see how far I’ve come.
I’m writing this not because I’m looking for your sympathy or to make you feel miserable (or guilty about being happy) but to encourage anyone who is in a really dark place right now: you won’t necessarily stay there. It sucks. It gets better — everyone tells you that, and it’s useless because no matter how much better it gets you still have to live through the awfulness first. But it might not last as long as you think.
Also, go and get a blood test, because you might be anaemic or vitamin D deficient, and they have a massive impact. Trust me.
*Ideas from this entry later became my poem Fighting The Early Hours which is found in Crossroads Poetry.